McCain Shakes Up Campaign, Running for Real Now

mccain rollercoaster
Photo: Photo-illustration: Everett Bogue; Photos: Getty Images

John McCain is rebooting (a term he may or may not be familiar with) his campaign for president, shaking up his staff for the second time in a year, as he puts George W. Bush veteran and Karl Rove acolyte Steve Schmidt in charge of basically all the stuff that matters and reducing the role of former campaign manager Rick Davis. The move comes in response to widespread dissatisfaction among Republicans with pretty much everything the campaign has done to date: the lack of a coherent message, the poorly planned scheduling, the wasted monthslong head start, the head-scratching trips to electoral-voteless Canada and Colombia, the nauseating green speech background, the mostly terrible speeches overall, the promise to "veto every single beer" that crosses his desk, etc. So with all of those problems definitely behind us, what can we expect from the new and improved McCain campaign?

• Adam Nagourney notes the elevation of Schmidt is "the latest sign of the increasing influence of veterans of [Karl] Rove’s shop in the McCain operation." Rove himself has offered advice to McCain in an unofficial role, mindful that "his own legacy could be helped should Mr. McCain succeed in winning the presidency." With the change in organization, the campaign will look to basically restart after July 4, traveling to battleground states and talking about the economy. [NYT]

• Matthew Yglesias notes that handing the campaign to Schmidt, who was "one of the main architects of Bush's reelection campaign…seems like a good way to demonstrate that a vote for McCain is like a vote for a third Bush term." [Atlantic]

• Steve Benen also notes an "odd dynamic": At the same time "McCain is assuring voters he doesn't represent a third Bush term," he's "running on Bush's policy agenda and has Bush's political operation running his campaign." [War Room/Salon]

• Ari Berman writes that the McCain campaign is turning to Rovian tactics because the unfavorable political climate is holding McCain down. But "these days Rovian politics only takes one so far," which is why Schmidt's time running Arnold Schwarzenegger's moderate 2006 reelection campaign "may be more instructive for McCain." [Campaign '08/Nation]

• Josh Marshall writes that, far from just a personnel change, the fact that the campaign is dropping its plan for eleven "largely autonomous" regional managers "sounds a lot like they're scrapping the whole operation and starting again from square one." [Talking Points Memo]

• Dan Balz and Michael Shear believe Schmidt's "biggest challenge will be to help McCain deliver a clearer and more consistent message and to do so in the right places." Part of the new message will be "a renewed focus on government reform, a theme that fits McCain's brand but has been largely lost in the daily discussions of the economy and national security." [WP]

• Marc Ambinder writes that McCain's messages have been "scattershot" and "often contradictory," as they revolved largely around long-planned fund-raising events. For example, touting a renewable-energy initiative "on the same day he held a fund-raiser with oil executives." And it wasn't just a message problem, but an execution problem, and some worry "that the power-sharing arrangement between Schmidt and Davis will inevitably lead to more friction, as the lines of authority aren't clear." [Atlantic]

• Jonathan Martin portrays Schmidt as a man known for his focus and execution, a hard worker with a "no-nonsense style" and little concern for social graces. [Politico] —Dan Amira

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.